EFF4: Innovation, Learning, and Uncertainty
In the last Education Fast Forward debate (EFF4) our discussion, ably led by Geoff Mulgan and Paul Howard Jones, reflected on innovation, games and uncertainty and their role and impact in learning.
I particularly like the idea that brain science is telling us uncertainty of outcome improves our ability to learn. That’s partly because I also like the belief that the opposite of faith is certainty. Managing uncertainty is an important part of real life. I recall a discussion with a friend who had the good fortune, in his high-powered job, to have a life coach. On one occasion, the coach said to my friend, ‘the trouble with you is you want to fix everything … sometimes you just have to live with the uncertainty.’ Our rush to make problems soluble and to fix them simply may produce a whole lot of half baked answers and also reduce our ability to learn from them.
So it is, I suspect, with much of our approach to teaching and learning. We’re inclined to set things up as simply soluble tasks – which I suspect can reduce such tasks to solution by application of dull mechanical process. We learn these processes, then we think we are thinking.
My experience of teaching is that real problems, while much more challenging, can excite much more interest and much more creative thought, especially when students have identified the problem to be solved in the first instance.
Working Your Way Up the Food Chain
Around ten years ago, I was sent to Tyneside, in the North of England to speak to some people who wanted to introduce computer aided design (CAD) to schools in their area. The company I met clearly had a vested interest in developing skills in CAD and for interesting reasons. They had been associated with the ship-building industry, but had recognized that they needed to move up the ‘food chain’ as they described it, so they were involved more with funding, procurement, planning, design and project management. This wasn’t to diminish the importance of construction itself, but to recognize that if you were involved in construction alone you were left hanging on the outcomes of each of these other elements of the process. If you were involved in planning and design as well as construction, then you were likely to be more in control of your own destiny, and also more engaged in the whole process.
I wondered then, should we think that way about our approach to learning. If the student is involved in identifying the questions as well as planning the work and designing and building the solution, would they not be more engaged, more interested and likely to learn most?
Real Problems and Real Answers
One of the reasons I am particularly drawn to TakingITGlobal‘s work is that, coming from a completely different direction, the organization has arrived at a very similar place. It recognizes the power unleashed when learning is associated with doing real things and when it is led by the learners themselves. Not passive recipients these, but active and engaged. Under these circumstances, learning is more effective, engagement can be extraordinary and the world can become a better place as a result.
Take, for example, TakingITGlobal’s DeforestACTION programme. Never daunted by taking on a big challenge, TakingITGlobal identified that of the 20 great problems affecting the world, deforestation was the one their community particularly wanted to address. And they have worked on a range of different approaches to make that happen. I remember my sister telling her eight-year-old brother (it was a long time ago) that persistence is an important quality of intelligence. I don’t know if that’s exactly right, but TakingITGlobal has certainly been persistent in its pursuit of solutions to deforestation and its problems. From trying a range of different actions, TakingITGlobal is now working on supporting and developing a sanctuary for the endangered orang-utans in Indonesia, it is working through its community to safeguard forest areas from illegal destruction and it is supporting learning as it goes.
Peace One Day
So if I were to have an opportunity to marry up the idea of learners in the lead with a potential area of work, and with the idea of generating some real action and impact, what might it be? Enter Jeremy Gilley, stage left. Jeremy inspirationally has sought to make the world a more peaceful place starting with a single day each year, then building out from there. He’s not doing it alone. He has sponsors including Dior, Innocent, Google, Skype, British Airways, Coca Cola, Ocado, the Execution Charitable Trust, and the Lotus F1 Team. He also has an all star cast of backers and supporters, some of whom you will find if you look up the Peace One Day website.
EFF5: From Learner Voice to Global Peace
On 10 July 2012, EFF5 will bring together learners as leaders in the debate around student voice, and Peace One Day will offer a challenge that, if taken up, will help to make this a more peaceful world. A few small projects spawned from the debate, projects driven by the too often unleashed potential of students. If it makes some people’s lives better, more secure and safer, then that would be wonderful. Of course, we can’t be sure that that will be an outcome of EFF5, all we can do is set the circumstances in which it is made possible. But then that’s the kind of uncertainty I like, and from which I will surely learn.
So get involved, join the debate on 10 July 2012 through its live streaming and by posting your questions to the debaters via Twitter (#eff5). And, if you have a mind to, take the encouragement from there to take some actions to make this a more peaceful and a better world, particularly on Peace Day, 21 September 2012.
Visit the Education Fast Forward pages to find out about the next big education debate.
This article originally appeared on the Promethean Planet blog.